Friday, January 19, 2007

The 50 Most Influential Christians in America

During the Ted Haggard fiasco that occurred late in 2006, one of the bigger reasons used to insult Christians was that Ted had, only recently, been named as one of the single most influential evangelicals in America for his involvement in many evangelical organizations. I didn’t really search for the poll, story, or survey (whatever it was) that gave Mr. Haggard this honor because it was pretty irrelevant as it related to my concerns about the man and the situation.

But recently, I was made aware of another article that features the top 50 most influential (contemporary) evangelicals in America. I would normally not pay attention to this kind of an article, but this time I did. I must say that it was an interesting article, and it may have served as a good catalyst for a series of questions that have been brewing for a long time.

I am disappointed, but not shocked by any means, that the number one most influential Christian in America (from and their survey) is Joel Osteen. Joel Osteen’s health, wealth, and motivational speaking masked as preaching is, in my opinion, a cancer on the face of the gospel. People are wooed to strive for possessions, promotions, money, and happiness that is from God, but very little emphasis seems to be put on finding happiness in God.

Some time ago, I was reviewing some different articulations or defenses of the gospel by various religious leaders, and one of them was Joel Osteen. I was commenting on his rather infamous appearance on the Larry King Live program when Osteen made a comment that people in India somehow loved God. This is completely shocking since it was clear by the context that those people in his example were not Christians and that it is inconceivable that people in an idolatrous false religion would truly love God. They may love some version of a god that they’ve created in their minds and out of rock or wood, but they would not know the true God. And even if they knew who the one true God is, discarding the gospel of Jesus Christ for pagan idolatry would be anything other than a display of loving God.

Furthermore, regarding people of other faiths and people who hold those beliefs, Mr. Osteen said, “I don't know if I believe they're wrong.” This would be nothing less than concerning if it came out of the mouth of any Christian who’d been saved for any length of time, but for this to come from a pastor is inexcusable. He probably made this statement out of a sense of humility or out of a desire for not wanting to seem overbearing or judgmental, but for a pastor to make this statement, “is to skip past humility and jump straight into a denial of God’s Word and it is heresy of the first order.”1

But I don’t want this to be a slug-fest on only one man. In fact, I would like to look at the top 10 that were listed and give my own thumbnail-sketch understanding of who they are:

  1. JOEL OSTEEN – (see above)

  2. BILLY GRAHAM – Historically he’s been very solid even though he has been a little less than clear or steadfast in his old age. That being the case, I am more prone to ‘chalk up’ the inconsistencies to his age rather than to his convictions.

  3. BILL HYBELS – His ministry is best known for the “seeker friendly” movement and training to support that model of church.

  4. BISHOP T.D. JAKES – In one word: Heretic. He denies the Trinity, and therefore is not a Christian.2

  5. JAMES C. DOBSON, PH.D. – Of the Focus on the Family fame, Dobson is not outspoken for his theology, but for his cultural application of Christian Values.

  6. PAUL CROUCH – He is the founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network. Of the many things that he has done, I will say that he has given a platform for the worst type of Christian programming (Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, and many more) who preach the false prosperity gospel.

  7. JOYCE MEYER – I have only seen her a few times, but she is in the same health, wealth, prosperity, word-of-faith false teachings that most of the preachers on TBN’s programs are.

  8. LEONARD SWEET – I don’t know anything about him except that he is associated with the United Methodist Church and seminaries. Quite frankly, that alone is enough to make me be leery of anyone.

  9. JOHN PIPER – Rock solid. He boldly preaches the historic, unashamed, and powerful gospel of Jesus Christ. I can recommend few preachers as highly as him.

  10. ROB BELL – My best exposure to him in his work is from his video “Bullhorn guy” where he distances himself from preaching a clear gospel of repentance from sin. He is also part of the emergent church movement that, if those in the movement can be bunched together, is in the concept that “truth is overrated” or that there is some subjectivism in all truth.3

The top ten does a fair job, in my estimation, of representing the tone of the whole 50. My problem is not necessarily that there are some people on the list who differ with me about some disputable theological issue. My problem is that this list contains at least 1 person who denies the Trinity, several members of the Word of Faith and Prosperity Gospel movements, and some Catholics in addition to some very solid preachers and other workers for the gospel.

So what is my concern? It is simply that this article does not really do anything to make distinctions between the beliefs of the people on this list. And I’m not talking about Spiritual gift or Church organizational issues, but it is with the gospel itself. For instance, in my study of the Bible, I find it to be so clear that sinful man is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. That faith is a living faith that is shown in repentance of sin and the continuous bearing of fruit. There are some people on this list who I know would articulate it correctly (MacArthur, Piper, Mohler, Kennedy, and some others). However, there are people on this list who use “the sinner’s prayer” seemingly as the “ticket” to salvation (Hagee #36), people who add works to salvation with either good works (Cardinal Mccarrick #49) or baptism (T.D. Jakes #4 and Cardinal Mccarrick #49). The list also includes at least one man who is in the protestant arena but wants to downplay the doctrine of hell and ultimately the sinfulness of man and the righteousness of God, re-examine the doctrine of Justification by faith by saying that it is not about being saved from the wrath of God, and who’s movement is subjectifying truth (Rob Bell #10).

I wonder if enough votes or nominations for a Mormon leader would have been received if they would have placed his name on this list? It may sound like a silly question, but I don’t think that it is as far fetched as I would hope. It seems like one of the current Mormon angles is to attempt to be identified alongside of actual Christians.4 I have experienced this by looking at some of their web materials and speaking with some of their missionaries and seeing how they try to blur the distinctions between us and them so as to lower the guard of normal confessing Christians.

What’s worse than my previous thought is the reality that most of the people on this list would classify themselves (or allow themselves to be classified by others) as an evangelical. The term evangelical (coming from the Greek word for the gospel, or good news) refers to those people who defend the gospel or people who defend the singular authority of Scripture and holding to a historically protestant interpretation of them. So then I ask you, if being described as a Christian or even as an evangelical is just as applicable to John MacArthur (#42) as it is to Robert Schuller (#13), or to T.D. Jakes (#4) what does that tell you? Nothing, it tells you nothing. The word “evangelical”, as it is understood popularly, might as well refer to someone who makes statements that may be loosely arrived at from the Bible, and there is no understanding of what this term has historically meant.

So here is my conclusion, call for action, or shout in the darkness (whatever). Should we start calling ourselves something different? Don’t get me wrong, I think that we deserve the title of Christians and of Evangelicals, but if those titles have been co-opted, should we not do our best to distance ourselves from those who claim to be in the same group but do serious damage to the gospel?

I don’t know what that title should be, but I do know that if being labeled as a Christian includes everyone from Albert Mohler to Robert Schuller and almost everyone else who uses the name of Jesus in their teachings, we have a serious category problem from the beginning. But, if the title of evangelical extends from people like John Piper to those like T.D. Jakes, then Evangelicalism has a problem. Because men like T.D. Jakes and Robert Schuller don’t deserve the title of Christian much less the title of an evangelical.

1 “a Rabbi, a Priest, and a minister... “ by Eric Johnson

2 I wrote an e-mail to a friedn who enjoyed T.D. Jakes, you can find my blog entry about that at


4 This is in direct contradiction to what their founder, Joseph Smith. He claimed that all other denominations or segments of Christianity were apostate and that the new Mormon religion was he only true Christian church.

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